37: The Choice

37: The Choice

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

The Choice

Happiness is a conscious choice, not an automatic response.

~Mildred Barthel

I sat down on one of the logs that had been washed up by the sea. I loved to search them for the carved initials of kids in love. Not today though. I had too much on my mind. Bills to pay, the state of the economy and where it was headed, and the general strife in the world had left me sad and depressed. I came to the seaside hoping the crisp salty air would cheer me up.

Suddenly a spry elderly man appeared over the crest of a dune. A small white dog scampered over the rocks around his feet. I watched as he drew closer and closer and then to my surprise he came right over to where I was sitting and asked if he could join me. I nodded.

“How are you this fine day?” he asked with a smile, and I thought I could actually see the wisdom swirling behind his blue irises.

“I am okay,” I replied with a sigh. I began wondering about him and his sudden curious presence.

“Well, it is my experience that when someone sighs after something they’ve said then it isn’t always the full truth. In your face I can see that this is the case.”

I produced a weak smile and told him he was pretty observant, and felt strangely compelled to tell him about how I was feeling and why. I was surprised how easy it was to speak with this stranger. It wasn’t my nature at all. Perhaps it was his kind smile and his unthreatening demeanor that put me at ease. Whatever it was, this wonderful spirit and his frolicking dog had me laughing in no time.

“Thanks for turning my day around,” I said to him.

“It was your choice to do so,” he told me.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I will let you in on a little secret,” he said in a low voice. “I wasn’t always a happy person. I was more of a curmudgeon, angry at the world and what it had given me. My negativity pushed away all those who I cherished.”

“What turned you around?” I asked. I had a hard time believing this man, with eyes that turned into happy upside-down crinkle-smiles every time he laughed, could be anything other than the pleasant man I saw before me.

“One day the thought hit me, I could go through life as I had been and continue a lonely existence, or I could make a conscious choice and turn it around. I could choose to be happy.”

“Did it work?”

“Not at first. It was hard to change my lifestyle. I was an old man set in my ways, but I persevered. I learned to look around and see that I might not have control over what happened in my day, but I could control how I reacted to it. I think that might have been the whole key to my unhappiness, the feeling of being totally out of control of things.”

I sat in silence and looked out over the beach and ocean while mulling over his words. Could it really be that easy? Could we just simply choose how we reacted to the unpleasant or negative things in our lives? I looked at him again, and knew it to be true, for here was the evidence before me.

“Don’t take my word for it darlin’,” he said with a wink. “The only way to be sure is to try it out for yourself.” Then he gave me a smile and wave and started up the beach, with the dog bounding along the shore.

~Tracie Skarbo

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